St. John's travel's to Cincinnati tonight to face the #5 or #6 ranked (depending on the poll) Xavier Musketeers. At 7-15 after the home loss to Villanova and 0-9 in the Big East, the St. John's Red Storm look to be heading into an uneven matchup. But the Johnnies have been close, so close, for stretches.
Case in point - in the first game against the Xavier Musketeers, the Red Storm came within a point of Chris Mack's visiting team with two minutes remaining, before Federico Mussini's reaction - slamming a ball in frustration after committing a foul - drew the ire of a referee, who promptly gave him a technical foul. That foul led to a pair of Xavier free throws and the Johnnies could get no closer.
Of course, things have changed for both teams.
It's a month later.
Xavier's talented freshman starter Edmond Sumner missed the last game against the Johnnies, but will be a likely starter tonight.
St. John's has lost center Yankuba Sima, the 6'10" shot blocking force who helped the Storm battle for rebounds, won't be playing. And while Xavier has gone 5-1 since that point, St. John's is 0-6.
Every game is an opportunity, and there are chances to pull off the upset - as DePaul did last night, knocking off Providence in Chicago.
Who: St. John's Red Storm (7-15, 0-9 Big East) vs #6 / #5 Xavier Musketeers (19-2, 7-2 Big East)
Where: Cintas Center, Cincinnati, OH (capacity: 10,250)
When: Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Audio: 570 WMCA
Twitter: Follow @rumbleSBN and @StJohnsBBall for updates
Last Meeting: Xavier won at Carnesecca Arena, 74-66
The Musketeers have been led by a combination of great height, team offensive rebounding, and drawing fouls in their run through the Big East. Slasher Trevon Blueitt's scoring ability inside the arc helps pace the Musketeers; he's shooting 57% inside the arc. He's joined by big men Jalen Reynolds (55% inside the arc) and James Farr (54%), who do their work in the low post. Guards Myles Davis and Edmond Sumner pace the attack with solid ballhandling and passing, while Remy Abell provides tough perimeter defense and and JP Macura provides some scoring.
Xavier, on the season, had depended on their defense, but they have had ugly outings in their two losses to Villanova and Georgetown, where they gave up 141 points per 100 possessions and 121 points per 100 possessions, respectively (games hover around 70 possessions, give or take).
in conference play, the Musketeers haven't forced turnovers as well as they had in non-conference play - and the team has turned the ball over more than their opponents. That -1.7 turnover margin... is it a crack that St. John's can exploit?
Keys to the Game/ Scouting St. John's
St. John's has forced opponents to turn the ball over on 23% or more of their possessions in the last four games - forcing opponents into sloppy play and confused moments. St. John's offense, though, has been incredibly poor in that stretch, scoring more than 78 points/ 100 possessions only once - a 89 pts/ 100 possession performance against Marquette.
And the standard for a competent offense is 100 points/ possession.
In plainer numbers, here are St. John's shooting percentages in the last four games, all losses.
|Home/ Away||Opp||SJU Score||Opp Score||2PM||2PA||2P%||3P||3PA||3P%||FT||FTA||FT%|
St. John's is shooting better from outside the arc than inside the arc, struggling to convert on putbacks and layups. And shooting less than 33% inside the arc won't win many games. The worst Division I team, in terms of shooting inside the arc, is Quinnipiac, and they shoot 36% on two-pointers. (On the season, by the way, St. John's is 10th from the bottom of Division I, shooting under 42% on the season.)
So, now the Keys:
Shoot better. Really. The team's inability to shoot layups in traffic are a mix of lack of skill (which can be developed), trying too hard/ anxiety, and actual opponent defense. St. John's has to find a way to get those shots in. Drink some coffee. Try to dunk more. Aim for the top of that square on the backboard. Something.
Continue to play hard. St. John's has shown solid effort, chasing the game and showing different looks on defense That defense is coming along - despite the lack of a shot blocker or height inside.
Identify Xavier players. St. John's needs to know that Myles Davis and Macura want to shoot outside, that James Farr and Jalen Reynolds want to set up inside, and get to those players before they can set their feet and get to work.
Prediction: Effort is good, but on the road against a complete Xavier team, an upset might be a lot to ask for. The gambling spread is 23-24 points. Vegas is smart and St. John's would need a superhuman effort to win this one. 79-65, Musketeers win.